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Written by Bryan Cogman
Directed by Michelle McLaren
Commentary by Michelle McLaren and Robb McLachlan (DP)
There’s a lot going on in this episode exploring how women rule or otherwise wield power, and not a bit of it isn’t somehow disturbing. There’s a tendency in this show to skim over the politics (which, for a show called Game of Thrones that’s ostensibly supposed to be all about the politics is kinda irritating) and boil everything down to archetype, stereotype, and otherwise lowest common denominator, and that’s especially evident in the way the show treats women. And I’m not just talking about the rape; the way women are written is just awful. The only ways women can obtain and maintain power are through sex and violence, and the show is really schizophrenic about whether it condones this behavior or not.
Daenerys, her army having convinced the slaves of Meereen to rebel and overthrow their masters, passes judgment on those masters by taking an eye-for-an-eye approach: she has 168 of them nailed up (alive) along the streets of the city, each pointing to the next as they did the slave children along the road to Meereen. Barristan tries to talk her out of it; after all, this is the kind of thing he saw while serving Aerys. Dany says something about answering injustice with justice, and Barristan clearly isn’t convinced. Now, while this incident did happen in the books, the context is vastly different, mostly because of how watered-down the politics are in the show. Daenerys is constantly trying to balance diplomacy with her sense of justice, and there are far more people vying for her attention and loyalty in the books than in the show. She also constantly second-guesses herself and has to struggle to make decisions; the show has her making snap decisions that are almost always violent ones. Late in A Storm of Swords she realizes that conquering is not the same as ruling and she’s been acting “more khal than queen” and needs to completely change her approach (Ch. 71, Daenerys VI). The show loses most of that balancing act, roughly three-quarters of the people who need things from her, and several advisors, along with adding several violent incidents that either don’t happen in the books or occur in an entirely different context.
In King’s Landing, Cersei’s freezing out Jaime. Now, this could be the emotional fallout I was talking about last week, but it could also be Jaime’s refusal to murder Tyrion for her. Graves said that the reason Cersei ultimately capitulated to having sex with Jaime was to try to manipulate him into killing Tyrion. That’s gross on a whole other level from the whole “accidental rape” thing, but also didn’t come across in the scene. Cersei totally uses sex as a weapon, but amazingly enough that got toned way down for the show, probably partially because, except for Lancel, all the guys she manipulated through sex were dropped—the Kettleblacks are nowhere to be seen, for example. So when it comes to sexual manipulation, so far Cersei’s been all talk. That means there’s no precedent for her actually using sex to manipulate Jaime, and the link between “kill Tyrion” and “okay fine let’s have sex” is nonexistent in that scene. Which means that the reason for the freezing-out is really unclear.
Meanwhile, Olenna is giving Margaery lessons in sexual manipulation. She admits to having done it herself back in her heyday, breaking up her sister’s relationship with Luthor by “accidentally” seducing him the night before he was to propose to Viola. She advises Margaery to do something similar to the very young Tommen. Tommen’s age is a whole other issue on its own; in the books, he starts out at seven and starts ruling at nine. They aged up most of the kids by about 2-3 years for the show, which still makes him nine in season one, and maybe 12 by the time he takes the throne. Obviously Dean-Charles Chapman is older than twelve, so maybe we could see fourteen, but not much older than fifteen if they want to keep the continuity they set up with ages in season one (that’s a big if). Margaery in the books is roughly sixteen when she marries Renly, which puts her at around seventeen when she marries Tommen. Her age isn’t established in the show, but Natalie Dormer is in her mid-thirties, and Margaery is probably meant to be in her mid-twenties.
The upshot of all of this is that Margaery seducing Tommen is super gross. Having already established that Tyrion won’t have sex with a fourteen-year-old girl because she’s a child, to then gleefully send Margaery out to use her wiles on Tommen without any discussion of the age difference is also super gross. And considering that when Margaery sneaks into Tommen’s bedroom to start the bonding process he clearly has no idea what sex even is, it all smacks of pedophilic grooming. Sure, it’s hard to believe that Margaery wouldn’t consummate the marriage if Tommen’s technically old enough, but they could have avoided the whole problem by not aging Tommen up as far as they apparently did and having Margaery manipulate him the way she did in the books—with kittens and assertions that as king, he has power that Cersei’s keeping away from him.
Not to mention that Olenna’s whole story undermines her as a deft political mind and turns her into someone who ultimately got where she is by using sexual manipulation—just like Cersei, who we’re not supposed to like for that exact reason. So, pick one, show. Is sexual manipulation smart, or bad, or does it depend on who’s doing it and how open they are about it? Because it seems like Cersei’s only mistake was saying out loud that tears and a vagina are a woman’s best weapons.
And then after all of this “sex gives women power” bullcrap, we get Craster’s Keep, where rape is just background noise to the actual action that’s happening in the scene. Karl has apparently taken a page from the Over-the-Top Villain Handbook™ and is drinking from Mormont’s skull and encouraging his men to “fuck [the women] til they’re dead.” Classy. He also plans to keep Craster’s deal with the White Walkers going once the women explain to him what it is, and has Rast take a newborn baby out into the woods.
This is how Bran finds Craster’s Keep; they hear the baby crying and go to investigate, then get themselves all captured, which of course means that Meera has to be threatened with rape, because that’s what happens in this show (and how you know the Bad Guys are Bad Guys except when they’re Good Guys with Tortured Pasts). It doesn’t take much of this treatment for Bran to up and tell Karl exactly who they are, and of course Karl immediately links him with Jon. My question about all of this has been—how in the world do people like Craster and Karl know all about Jon’s family? Mance, sure, he was a member of the Night’s Watch and snuck south of the Wall on at least one occasion. But who would tell Craster about the Stark family? When would anyone talk to Karl about Jon’s little half-brother (or cousin, considering his true parentage)? I’m not saying it’s 100% unbelievable that they’d know these things, but I’d love to see how they know them besides Plot Convenience.
Also appearing in this episode:
Everyone likes Jon more than Alliser and Alliser is Super Threatened by him, so he says sure, go kill the mutineers with way more volunteers than I thought you’d actually get, whoops. But also with Locke, who the Boltons sent up to get rid of Bran (priority one) and Jon (priority two).
Jaime sends Brienne out after Sansa and Arya with his Valyrian steel sword, a set of black enameled armor, and Pod. She names the sword Oathkeeper and they exchange looks, then she leaves. Which makes me wonder what they’re trying to do with this relationship. Obviously they love each other (whether that’s romantic or not isn’t relevant), but are they seriously trying to back Jaime’s development back up to the man he was becoming out in the Riverlands—you know, before he raped his sister? Are we supposed to be “shipping” this? Because no, sorry, I don’t ship Brienne with anyone with the kind of entitlement issues that would lead him to rape his sister. The narrative eye of the show clearly wants us to sympathize with Jaime, though, and this is also part of what I meant by emotional fallout. Jaime might not see what he did as wrong, but the overall narrative also doesn’t, and that’s a problem. If the writers claim that it’s rape, then they treat rape very lightly in this show (that’s pretty much been demonstrated) and that’s a bigger problem.
Jaime also visits Tyrion and they bond over not killing/having killed family members.
Petyr’s taking Sansa to the Eyrie and continuing to stand far too close to her and look at her in a way that makes me shudder. Sansa’s starting to get an eye for politics, which is great. Too bad they yoink that out from under her later.
The baby mentioned earlier gets scooped up by a White Walker, hauled way up north, stuck on an altar thing, and then poked on the cheek by the Night King, which apparently turns him into a baby White Walker. I have so many questions.
Some Great Masters (only one on screen; the nailed-up ones aren’t dead yet)
Next week: Tommen becomes king. Pod is the worst squire. Lysa is the worst aunt. Bran’s mind-rape escalates.